One year ago, on Monday, March 16th, we shifted to remote learning. The previous week had begun relatively normally; there were rumors and estimated timetables developing around school closures, but we felt as though we still had a few more weeks, and maybe more. Thursday had seen student-led conferences on campus. Friday was a faculty PD day; we began the morning with yoga relaxation exercises. By noon the superintendent, in concert with county and state officials, had issued a shut-down order, and we spent the afternoon finishing an emergency plan to reshape the curriculum. The past year has been surreal, from mask mandates to the universality of Zoom, national unease and the persistent stress of ambiguity. In retrospect, however, I am amazed by, and grateful for, all the EMS community has managed. It has been a communal effort, certainly. Our Board of Trustees combined ambition with level-headed realism and a dedication to scientific reason in developing our plans to reopen in August, knowing the risks involved, especially since we were the only school that would be open for in-person learning within the surrounding area. The faculty and staff have been candid in sharing individual concerns, have listened to and developed cogent strategies, and remained steadfast in their collectivity, offering confidence to one another in the realization that we are stronger together. Moreover, the parents have been remarkably supportive, trusting the school’s primary intention to protect their kids while making their educational experience as normal as possible. Creativity, community, honesty, responsibility: the hallmarks of Emerald’s ethos have defined our process over the past twelve months, guiding us through the tumult of uncertainty with the reassurance that we can depend on each other.
For me, Halloween demonstrated the first visceral confidence that we were really figuring it all out. This was back when sanitizing groceries was still a popular perspective, the holiday plans in my own neighborhood had been cancelled, and I wondered how we could safely distribute candy to little kids, much less resemble the traditional melee at school that the students love: fashion show, haunted house, games, etc. As has happened time and again during the year, my uncertainty was met with unprecedented creativity: a parade route that marvelously displayed the genius of effective collaboration between parents and administration, generosity, and safety made practical and lovely, with cohorts carefully separated by the delay of a photo booth, and parents incorporating gloves and masks into their costumes as they distributed candy from beautiful, unique booths stationed at increments. Once through, students returned inside with their cohorts for a taste of candy (we were only allotted fifteen minutes of maskless eating time). They were thankful for the effort that had gone into the event, happy to share each other’s company, and while they expressed regret that they couldn’t be together as a whole school in one space, they understood the larger picture. Halloween proved to be analogous to a series of innovative successes that have defined the past year at EMS: Fridays in the Field, 150+ grandparents navigating Zoom to attend GP Day, the 5-6 environmental science trip to Crested Butte, Kindness Ninjas, the sibling program sustained over written correspondence, Stings Showcase and Holiday Brunch, digital community meetings, Valentine’s Day locker decorations, the middle school film production of Macbeth, and countless more. We haven’t just made it work. We’ve refined our best attributes to keep school excellent and enjoyable. In the most trying of circumstances, the EMS community has provided stability, perspective, fun, and optimism. I’m thankful to be a part of it.